Noga Yarmar – our first student to participate in an international student exchange at the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin

My name is Noga Yarmar and I’m a second-year grad student in the Holocaust Study Stream. This past fall (2018) I was fortunate to be the first student in our Germanic and Slavic Studies Department to participate in an international student exchange at the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZFA Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung) at the Technical University (TU) of Berlin. For a student of the Holocaust who has never been to Germany, this opportunity to live and study in Berlin was a highly rewarding and valuable experience on an academic and a personal level.


The duration of the winter semester at TU Berlin is from mid October to mid February. However, my exchange ended in late December. The Center for Research on Antisemitism offered four courses in English with topics ranging from Antisemitism in the US to the study of Multiculturalism and its critics.

The course that interested me the most was called “Learning from the Past? Holocaust/NS (National Socialist) Memorial Sites in Berlin”. This course involved excursions to memorial sites in and outside Berlin. I was lucky as the fall weather was relatively mild and dry and I did a lot of exploring and walking on my own as well.With over 3.5 million inhabitants, Berlin is an exciting, vibrant and fascinating city, but there is no escaping the past; everywhere you go you encounter a mark, a sign, a reminder of its dark history. So, an integral part of this exchange was the experiential learning that happened by being in the place and experiencing first hand the memorial landscape and the politics of memory.

SUNKEN LIBRARY at BOOK BURNING MEMORIAL located at Bebelplatz, the square where on May 10, 1933 members of the Nazi German Student Union and their professors burnt books as part of a nationwide action “against the un-German spirit”.


A few of the questions I explored during my stay were:
* How do we remember and what function this memory evokes and fulfills?
* Who is the memorial for – the viewers or the victims?
* How to tell the story of past atrocities? How to find and achieve a balance between presenting evidence without overwhelming the viewer with information and visual overload?

Reflecting on my exchange, what do I take with me from my time in Berlin and the numerous memorials I visited? How do they inform me in my future studies of the Holocaust? I have learned so much by living and studying in this city and now I have a greater and deeper understanding of the issues and context surrounding the Holocaust, Berlin and German society.

I’m most grateful for this experience and would highly recommend the exchange program for any student who is interested in the Holocaust and in the varied ways it is remembered and commemorated in Berlin. As I bid farewell to this city, I realize there is so much more for me to learn and discover. I hope to come back and do just that in the future!


God Jul, Sverige! – Time travelling at Skansen in Stockholm

By Lauren Thompson

On a whim, I applied to a conference in Gothenburg, Sweden to encourage myself to write more of my thesis. Shockingly I was accepted and began to plan my trip to Scandinavia. Since my partner, Sam, would be visiting at the time and we had both never been to Sweden, we decided to visit Stockholm first before making our way southwest to Gothenburg.

Our trip was the last week of November, so the weather had begun to get chilly, the days shorter, and the Christmas season was beginning in Europe. We even managed to hit one Christmas market in my town, Harburg, before flying to Stockholm.

Stockholm is wonderful and for our first two evenings we stayed at the AF Chapman hostel. The most unusual feature of the hostel is that a good portion of it is located on a steel sailing ship moored in central Stockholm, on the island (islet? That is what Wikipedia calls it) of Skeppsholmen. The ship, the AF Chapman, is the hostel’s namesake and was surprisingly cozy for staying belowdecks, though many doorways (and ceilings) were too short for Sam, who is 6’6”.

View from our Porthole in the AF Chapman and on the Deck.

Our trip back in time also proved to be quite an adventure in short ceilings. One of our first tourist sites was Skansen, an open-air museum located on Djurgården island – also home to the Vasa Museum (the ship that sailed for less than 30 minutes before sinking off the shores of Stockholm) and the Nordic Museum among other attractions. Open air museums typically aim to show typical life how it used to be by allowing visitors to explore buildings from that time (often transported to the museum from their original location), talking to employee-actors, and seeing the manner in which people lived and the types of items that were created (machinery, trades and crafts are featured). Skansen has a wide variety of eras from Swedish history as well as displays of Sami culture and construction.

We arrived on the first weekend of Jul på Skansen, “Christmas at Skansen”. Alongside Swedish Christmas traditions and the foods and music showcased at the variety of farmhouses and estates, there was a Christmas market – one of my favourite parts of winter in Europe.

The Christmas market featured a wide variety of foods, drinks, and crafts. Although I am typically vegetarian, I tried a reindeer sausage to get into the spirit and we drank Glögg, Swedish-style mulled wine. We purchased large, hand-made knäckebröd (like Wasa crackers), some smoked fish, and also some presents. I bought a number of decorations as gifts and for myself, these included the traditional Swedish horse, mushroom ornaments, and Tomte – the Christmas gnomes or elves. Sam purchased a beautiful three-wick candle that resembles a trident which he managed to transfer back to Canada with only a minor crack! The Christmas music, the cold air (it was between 0-1°C that day), the fires that were lit when it started to get dark at 2:30pm, and all the smells and sights were delightful and festive.

Skansen Christmas market and Skansen purchases


Skansen Christmas market and Skansen purchasesSkansen has a number of different eras and regions represented in the buildings it has on the property. I won’t go through all of them but choose some highlights that were open when we were there (parts are closed in the winter).

Farmsteads make up many of the buildings at Skansen. Since they come from different areas and from farms of different wealth, they have unique features. You can visit the interior of many of the buildings (entering through low doors where Sam would have to duck generously). Many of the rooms would have an actor or two dressed in traditional clothing that would have been typical for the inhabitants of that region, time, and stature. You can interact with them and they would talk about how their character would live. During our time at Skansen, they showed the traditional Christmas meals as well. Below is an image from a mural in the Delsbo farmstead originally from Hälsingland.

Mural from Delsbo Farmstead.

There is also a town within Skansen that contains all kinds of trades – an engineer, glassworks, furniture-maker, bakery, comb-maker, goldsmith, printer, etc. etc. etc. Since Sam is a carpenter, we spent a fair while in the furniture-makers. My favourite machine had to be the pedal-powered scroll saw – if I should ever start a collection, I will buy one. Those working in the town were also practicing those trades – so there were people blowing glass ornaments, baking Lussekatter (traditional Swedish Christmas treats), making shoes, and creating prints. It took all of my will-power not to buy some beautiful glass Christmas ornaments that would have broken just on the trip back to Hamburg.There is also a Sami (Laplander) camp that shows architecture from the indigenous Sami people in Sweden. Sami have a unique language and way of life that was earlier connected to reindeer herding. Since many Sami were semi-nomadic, some of the buildings in the camp were seasonal buildings only used in the summer.

Buildings from the Sami Camp.

Finally – Skansen also has a zoo and aquarium. The aquarium costs extra but you could still see many of the zoo animals (kept in generously large areas with lots of variety) on one side of the museum. These included owls, reindeer, seals, wolves, and my favourite – Otters, among a few others. Some animals were also in hibernation since it was winter, but it was fun to see the otters playing and the reindeer being very chill.

Unfortunately, the otters were moving too fast for me to get a good picture.

One thing that was a bit shocking and causing restraint throughout Sweden was the prices. I am currently used to German prices for food which are comparable, if not sometimes less, than in Canada. But in Sweden it is often 5-25% more for products than in Canada – I definitely at one point paid the equivalent of $14 for one beer at a restaurant. The prices at Skansen weren’t different, but we were still able to enjoy ourselves and find some decent deals there – not to mention some free flat-bread snacks at the bakehouse.

There is so much more at Skansen that I haven’t been able to mention. Including the beautiful views that you get of Stockholm from the top of the hill there. We only went for one day, but I feel like I will return in the future to experience more of the expansive museum! It is definitely to be recommended if you find yourself in Stockholm.

Me with a Swedish Horse and Stockholm from Skansen.

Best Holiday wishes from Northern Europe! Until next time, friends.


Ahoi Hamburg!

Posted by Irina Gavrilova on behalf of
Lauren Thompson

English Language Assistant in Hamburg, Germany
On leave from the Germanic Studies Master’s program at UVic

In spring of this year, I found out that I would yet again be going to Germany to work at a school as an English assistant through the Pedagogical Exchange Service (Pedagogischer Austauschdienst or PAD). This would be my second time doing so and I was excited for the opportunity to live in Germany again and work with young people there. However, I was shocked to find that I would be sent to the opposite side of the country this time. Whereas my first time was in a “city” of 6000 on the border with Austria near Salzburg – deepest Bavaria – this time I was being sent to the northern city of Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany! I thus had to acclimatize myself to living in the Hafenstadt, the harbour city.

View of the River Elbe and the Port in Hamburg.

Now, I don’t actually live and work in central Hamburg, but rather in Harburg, a smaller city to the south of Hamburg. Although it is considered part of Hamburg, many staunchly claim that “Harburg is not Hamburg”. It is not unlike when people from Vancouver say that “Burnaby isn’t Vancouver” or, for Victoria, say that “Sidney isn’t Victoria”. For me, the jury is still out and I still easily travel to and from central Hamburg.


Moving to Germany involved a lot of ups and downs. Apartment hunting in Hamburg is not too easy – it is one of the more expensive cities in Germany and most people want to meet you in person – something that is difficult if you are searching from Canada. I had a sublet for my first three weeks and, during that time, I found an excellent room in an apartment with an awesome roommate.

Once on the ground, it was a bit of a struggle to figure out the bureaucracy that is involved with moving – it had changed since my last time here. When you move to Germany you are obligated to register yourself at city hall, find a bank, and, if you are a non-EU citizen like me, you have to then apply for a residency permit. Thankfully the PAD provides documents to help with this process and, if you’re lucky like I am, contacts from the school you work at help out. My struggle this year was with banks and changes in policy. For registration city hall required an extra form that was not necessary my last time here and Hamburg is so busy that you need to book an appointment way before time – this made registering a little more chaotic than I’d even expected. For banks, every one that I went to requested a residency permit even though I was already legally in Germany (Canadians can stay 90 days without a residency permit). It would also take a while to receive my residency permit* so I kept trying and finally got an account almost three months after arriving in Germany – talk about stress! I was lucky that I had a bit saved up.

My Work!

My school is a Stadtteilschule, something that only exists in Hamburg. They are a kind of combined school (Gesamtschule) that runs parallel to the traditional three-tiered German school system. Here it gets altered a bit. My school only teaches until the tenth grade and some students leave after the ninth grade. If students do well on their tenth grade exams, they continue on at another school to complete exams that allow them to go to university.

Diagram of the German school system. My school lines up best with a Gesamtschule but only offers the Realschule and Hauptschule exams.  (Image from

English is a part of the exams that the students take in the 9th and 10th grade, so I am here to help them practice speaking with a native English speaker and just generally assist with English classes. I read with them, chat with them, facilitate discussion and take part in other aspects of their school life like presentation and exam preparation. We also decided to have a non-credit challenge “course” for those who are doing particularly well, this is meant to introduce them to language and themes that don’t come up in their normal classes and further their English knowledge. I’m including a fair amount of Canadian content to, hopefully, make it more interesting. In addition to all this, I hope to help a bit with some social studies courses as they learn parts of Second World War and Holocaust history. The topic is part of my specialization at UVic and so hopefully I can help to communicate it to our students.

The Hansestadt

Hamburg is a Hansestadt or a “Hanseatic City”, meaning it used to be part of the Hanseatic League that dominated trading in Northern Europe. Many of the places included in the Hanseatic League were port cities, like Hamburg. Because of this, the letters on the license plates here are “HH” or Hansestadt Hamburg. A lot of the sights in Hamburg relate to the trading and maritime history in Hamburg and it remains a major port. South of the Elbe but Northwest of me in Harburg, you can see the massive cranes that load containers on and off of the ships. Since it is so flat here, they stand out along the horizon.

There are, of course, many things to too in Hamburg and currently the many Christmas markets and the snow (!) make the city delightful and festive. Hopefully I’ll get around to sharing some of the sights from Hamburg, more about my daily life, and detail some of my trips throughout Europe!

Until my next post,


* I do, as of early December, have a residency permit.







Looking Back on Ukraine – On behalf of Emma Murray

My name is Emma Murray and I am a History major and Slavic Studies minor at the University of Victoria. In June 2016 I participated in a study abroad program to Kyiv, Ukraine to study both Ukrainian and Russian language at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Participation in this trip has been a long term goal of mine ever since I learned of the program in my first year at UVic, and upon hearing that it would operate again in 2016, I jumped at the opportunity to register.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti or "Independence Square"
Maidan Nezalezhnosti or “Independence Square”

Ukraine was to become my first experience with the world outside of North America. In the days leading up to the trip, friends and family would ask “How excited are you?”, and to their dismay, I found myself replying simply with “I don’t know”. I had no idea or expectation of what Ukraine would be like. For the past three years Ukraine had simply been a location on a map or in my textbooks, not a real place I would ever be able to set foot in. It was a place that I had studied and researched for years, yet it still felt like a far away land.

Being able to visit Kyiv, a city bursting with history, felt surreal. It seemed that every corner of the city had a story to tell, from the historic neighborhood of Podil in which we lived, to the divine grounds of the Pechersk Lavra, the banks of the Dnipro, the downtown core of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, and the numerous ancient cathedrals and churches that stand their ground amongst the bustling modern city. It felt as if Kyiv itself was constantly surprising me each day with something new to learn, somewhere interesting to visit, and someone new to meet. There was something truly special about Kyiv that made it feel as if the city had a life of its own.

Polaroids of my Ukrainian friend and I in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, notes from my Russian language class, a Ukrainian SIM card, my passport
Polaroids of my Ukrainian friend and I in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, notes from my Russian language class, a Ukrainian SIM card, my passport

Upon departure from Kyiv and saying farewell to the new friends I had made there, I felt more like I was leaving a guest’s home that I would return to soon, rather than a country that I may not set foot in again for years (I hope this is not the case!). Aside from the usual slight homesickness and obvious language barrier, I truly felt welcomed and comfortable in Ukraine. Spending time studying abroad thoroughly challenged and benefited my language skills, forced me to adapt to the customs and rules of a different culture, and broadened my overall worldview, which in turn enhanced my own personal growth.

The summer has now ended and classes are back in session, and as I reflect on this past summer and the memorable month I spent in Kyiv, I find that I am truly grateful to have been able to participate in the program, and would highly recommend it to any student who may find themselves even remotely interested. Since returning to UVic this year, I find myself extremely excited to educate others and encourage them to participate in this study abroad trip. For me, this program not only provided extremely valuable and high quality language training, but also unique insight into the history and culture of a country and its people, which for hundreds of years has endured a tumultuous past, that has continued up until present day.

Me, overlooking the Left Bank of Kyiv
Me, overlooking the Left Bank of Kyiv

On behalf of Stephanie Taralson: Lots of Possibilities

After completing my Germanic Studies minor at UVic, I applied to and was accepted by the PAD for a year-long teaching assistantship position in Göttingen. For me, this was my chance to finally spend time living in Germany after finishing my Bachelor of Music degree. When my teaching contract was finished, I immediately relocated to Berlin to begin a new junior management position with a travel company that provides small-group, academic walking seminars to travelers in more than 35 cities around the world. I am now Central Europe Program Manager for this company and spend my days overseeing operations and staff in five (soon to be six) countries.
Over the past year in Berlin, I have also worked as an editor and translator for a bilingual online publication and have contributed to other local publications, both online and print, as a writer.


Want to meet Wim Wenders? – keep reading the post from Fiona Mortimer, 2014 BA in Germanic Studies

Hey there! If you don’t know, I’m Fiona. I studied at the University of Victoria and graduated with my BA in Germanic Studies in 2014. Since then, I’ve been living in Germany. I started my Master’s degree at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. It’s a romantic and sleepy little city in the middle of basically nowhere, but it is rich with culture and arts. Famous German writers such as Schiller and Goethe lived here, and well known composers such as Johann Bach and Franz Listz stopped by to leave their mark on the city. Now I am here, studying Media Art and Design and it couldn’t be more amazing. I am working with many professional filmmakers and professors. The students are from all over the world, so I have the chance to improve my Spanish and French if I want to. It is really wonderful to be surrounded by people who share the same passions as me. (I am an aspiring film director).
Sometime this month, as according to my professor, I will have the privilege of meeting Wim Wenders, a very famous German film director and producer. He will be stopping by the Bauhaus University and helping us with a television workshop. We get to work side by side with him and receive personal feedback – which to me, is a BIG DEAL. It is definitely a dream come true.
Come February, I have applied to work at the Berlinale Film Festival for a practicum. There, I will get to meet some famous directors and aspiring directors and work behind the scenes. As an employee, I also receive free access to all films and of course, I get paid. It’s an amazing opportunity to develop my network and meet other like-minded people as myself.
So far my time in Weimar hasn’t been disappointing. I was also able to visit the Leipzig Documentary Film Festival back in October, and of course travel to all the surrounding areas and immerse myself in the beauty and culture of Germany. I don’t regret a thing, and I look forward to many things to come .


Robyn Gray: My work as a PAD Fremdsprachassistentin in Berlin

Europe 2012 2089

My name is Robyn Gray, and over the school year of 2013-2014, I worked as a Fremdsprachassistentin in Berlin as part of the PAD program. The school to which I was assigned was a Gymnasium, so the students attending were between grades five and twelve.

My experience began with a three-day orientation that took place outside of Cologne. I was pleasantly surprised by just how helpful this orientation was, in not only preparing for the work we would be doing, but also in allowing us a chance to meet new people that would be working near us. The organizers grouped together students that would be living in the same cities and areas in Germany, so that we would have a network of friends upon our arrival. The majority of students there were from England and Ireland, since students from the U.K. could do this experience abroad in the third year of their degree. This is referred to as an Erasmus exchange.  There were only about 7 other students there from Canada, but also some from New Zealand and Australia. There was a group of these students that I saw regularly throughout the year.

At orientation, we gained some information about our roles in our new schools, but there were variances for each of us once we arrived at our actual workplaces. At the orientation, we learned about how to create our bank accounts once we arrived in our cities, how to obtain a visa, and how to find a place to live (I was fortunately all set up before I arrived). We practiced creating lesson plans for classes, learned some aspects of the difference between our roles and the teacher’s role, and were encouraged to get involved in extracurricular activities at our schools.

My first few weeks in Berlin were a bit frantic with getting everything settled. Setting up my bank account was not too difficult, especially since everyone working at said bank were very adept at English. I was a bit worried about setting up my visa, but luckily everything went smoothly. In regards to getting around, I was lucky that the transit system is so extensive in Berlin. A few of my friends working in smaller cities ended up buying a car, or else they made sure that they lived close to the schools where they worked.

The principal and teachers working at my school were extremely happy to have me there, especially since I am a native English speaker. They hadn’t really expected me to speak much German, so they were surprised with how much I knew (even though when I was applying to the PAD program, I had to prove how much German I knew by passing an exam!).

To anyone who partakes in the PAD program, I recommend that you ask your teachers to create a weekly schedule. I heard stories about some students that would show up at work and not have any idea what they would be doing that day, or if they would be called upon at all. I was given a specific schedule, showing what class I would be assisting with every day so I knew when to be where. I had Fridays off, which gave me the opportunity to travel. There were three or four teachers I worked with every week, usually with the same classes. My regulars ranged from grade six to ten.

The difficult thing with this job was not having a very clear idea on what my role was. I tried to make sure that I discussed my role with each teacher, so that I knew where I stood – the amount of responsibility I had varied based on which teacher I was working with. In some classes, I would take small groups of students into the hall and have conversations with them. In other classes, I would do a portion of the lecture, coordinating my teaching time with the primary teacher. There were a few classes in which I designed and executed a lesson plan on my own. I created one lesson plan and PpowerPoint presentation telling the class all about Canada.

Every week, I ran a “Conversation Class” individually. This was a drop-in class for any students in any grade who wanted to attend. Each week I would have a theme for the class, and we would have discussions based on this theme. Sometimes we watched television or movies.

When I wasn’t teaching, I was getting involved in German life in other ways. Since I used to play the bass guitar in high school, I joined a recreational orchestra. This was a great way to practice my German with the members of the band. I also joined a gym near my apartment. In addition, I took a three-month German language course at the Technical University in Berlin, where I met other international students and had the chance to improve my German.

There was a group of about twelve students living in Berlin that had met at orientation, and we got together about once a week. In Berlin, they have an event called “Cinesneak” at the Potsdamer Platz movie theatre every Thursday. You buy a movie ticket for 5 euros, but you have no idea what movie it is you’re seeing. It became a weekly tradition for us to go to dinner and then Cinesneak.

During a school holiday, a group of me and my friends from orientation went to Oktoberfest. There are small Oktoberfest events in Berlin, but we were able to go to the one in Munich as well. Hotels around Oktoberfest book up extremely early in the year, so the best we could do was stay in tents at a campground. I was happy we went on weekdays instead of on the weekend – it was still very busy during the week, but on the weekend it would have been insanely packed.






Outside of this trip, there were lots of other opportunities to travel – personally, I went to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Leipzig, and even Dresden for the famous Christmas Markets. The Christmas Markets in Germany are like nothing I’ve ever experienced in Canada. My friends went to a lot of other places too, including Budapest. I tried to find a balance between traveling and seeing as much of Europe as I could, while also saving some money to bring home with me when the year was done.

The year in Germany seemed to fly by. One of the best pieces of advice I received at orientation was that even though it is an amazing experience and “one of the most memorable years of your life”, not every day will be perfect. You will sometimes miss your bus, or fall and scrape your knee (that was a crappy day, let me tell you!), or feel homesick. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it is still a job with several daily stresses.

It felt like I played a fairly minimal role at the school, but at the end of the year I was so touched by how grateful the students and teachers were. A few classes signed cards for me, the teachers gave me gifts, and even the students in my conversation course gave me chocolates. I learned a lot about myself over the course of the year, improved my German fluency, and gained a lot of confidence.

I hope that you consider pursuing this amazing opportunity. As much as a year can seem like a long time to spend in a foreign country, it is short in the grand scheme of things. For me, this was the perfect step to take once I had finished my degree and wasn’t sure where my life would go next. I have made friends all over the world that I still keep in touch with and can’t wait to visit, and my experience teaching taught me a lot about myself as a person.

If you want to read more about my experience, please visit my blog at:


Germany 2013 493


Judy Byron: Senior Student Adventure in Russia

Studying a second language can be a challenge. Add one senior citizen memory and the Cyrillic alphabet to the mix and you have enough of a mental challenge to keep one’s brain active and thriving!

I first requested audit status in September, 2013. Since that time I have completed SLST 100, 101,102, 200, 201 and partial 202. I participated in whatever Russian classes the University had to offer: the Russian Café, tutoring sessions, as well as reviewing previous classes. I kept my goal of a trip to Russia in 2015 as the ultimate ‘carrot’. My fellow students were inclusive and supportive – the age difference was not a barrier to learning. My professor was outstanding. She understood my learning style and gave me the freedom to participate at my pace.

Soon enough, my dream of travelling to Russia and practicing my language skills was coming true. This past May I flew to Moscow, down to Simferopol (Crimea), toured throughout Sevastapol and Yalta. I flew to the Cossack city of Krasnador, visited the heritage village of Toman, rode the overnight train to Volvograd, flew to Moscow and then the overnight train to St. Petersburg. I never felt threatened in any way.

I was able to navigate the ‘Red Train’ from Vnukovo airport to Moscow, take advantage of the magnificent Moscow Metro, take a above ground bus in St. Petersburg and ask for directions when lost, which happened on many occasions. There were a few travel glitches but there was always some kind person willing to help out.

As a Rotarian, I have access to Rotarians throughout the world and joined a US Committee to support Rotary in Russia. News coming out of our Canadian and US correspondents is not favourable which, as a responsible adult, one has to take into consideration. However, I also knew that Rotarians would take care of me if I ran into any type of difficulty. I joined three US Rotarians en route and continued my travels. We were all so fortunate to have this opportunity to be exposed to Russian culture, stay in private homes, and meet so many kind Russian citizens. I have learned so much and there is so much more to learn. The bonus factor: I now have many friends in Russia. How great is that!!

policemen in Yalta

With two very good looking police/soldiers in the inner harbour of Yalta. I just went up to them and asked if they would mind have a picture with me. You can see that one was a bit hesitant but the other was enjoying himself.

Cossack weddingMyself and a fellow traveller participating in a ‘Cossack Wedding’ in the village of Toman. It was a lot of fun.

Mamaev Kurgan
Mamaev Kurgan in Volgograd (former Stalingrad)

This monument was a ‘wow’ factor for me.


On behalf of Stephanie Taralson: PAD – worth doing!

Sometimes in the rush of moving on to the next stage in your life, it’s easy to forget to wrap up loose ends from the last stage. My position with the PAD finished over a month ago, but I suppose it’s never too late to post a farewell on this blog.

I couldn’t have had a better time during my year as an assistant. From the photos that I saw on Instagram, the tweets, and Facebook posts, many of my fellow assistants felt the same. For a couple of days, there was a stream of class pictures, photos of farewell gifts and parties, and general fondness as we all said goodbye to our schools, students, and friends. I, for one, felt many pangs at leaving my lovely flat and driving out of Göttingen.

If anyone is considering applying to the PAD, all I can say is: DO IT. My goal for the year was to improve my German to the point that I felt comfortable communicating in any situation, and I think I can say that I’ve made it. It’s often sprinkled with mistakes or missing the perfect words, but just in the past month, I’ve gone apartment hunting again and managed everything comfortably; shopped for new running shoes with proper arch support; talked politics, feminism, and history; and sorted out new health insurance at the Krankenkasse. I wouldn’t have dared to do those things ten months ago.

Not just the language, but the cultural experiences have been incredible. From Christmas with friends near Frankfurt to classes at the university to a choir retreat in the Harz mountains, my German friends and colleagues were kind and welcoming, and they gave me a real taste of life here. That’s not to mention the literal tastes – we just finished Spargelzeit. Asparagus season is the most delicious national celebration period ever.

The next stage is just beginning. A few weeks before the PAD assistantship ended, I was hired by a travel company to manage their day-to-day operations in central Europe, based out of Berlin. When I started German 101 at UVic almost four years ago, I had no clue that I would end up moving here long-term. I came to Germany hoping that some new direction would open up for me, and thankfully I was ready to seize the opportunity when it came. I’m now becoming an expert on all things ‘visa paperwork’, which is just as much fun as it sounds…

So this is ciao from me for now – viele Grüße aus Berlin! Bis dann!


My first week in Marburg!

Hello everybody, my name is Stuart and I am a Writing and Germanic Studies major. I’m participating in an exchange semester with Phillips-Universität Marburg and I’m finally here! After eighteen months of planning and dreaming, I am now writing this blog from my dorm room in Marburg an der Lahn, Germany. This past week has definitely had a very surreal quality to it, and I found myself needing a take a few days to recover from my jetlag and allow my mind to adjust to the fact that I AM IN GERMANY.


My goals for this exchange are to develop a fluency in German, and I felt that immersion would be the only way to achieve this as fully as I wanted to. So far, it’s working! After only a week,  I can already tell that just being here is teaching me language skills that just can’t come as easily or as powerfully in a classroom setting. When I walk up to a door that says “Drucken”, that door only moves when I push on it. I am doing this hundreds of times a day now, and “Drucken” is no longer something I translate in my head, but is rather something that has pure meaning to me. (Same with the other side of that door, which says “Ziehen”, and as you probably guessed, isn’t budging until you pull it open) Ordering a wonderful little delight called a “Milchkaffee”, riding the bus past advertisements, checking for each store’s hours, and just listening to all of the conversations around me every day is developing and reinforcing my German, and all that I’m doing are simple, everyday tasks.


I read Rowan’s blog, and spoke to several other students who had gone on exchanges to Marburg before me, and I can add my own recommendations for preparing for an exchange, based on some things I did, and some things I now wish I had done. Firstly, don’t try to buy outlet converters at home. You will find exactly what you are looking for once you arrive in Germany, and it is 100% guaranteed to work if you buy it from here! I bought a charger for my iPhone and a new power cord for my laptop adapter after I arrived, and the converter I bought in Canada is sitting on my desk being all useless and stuff. Secondly, Internet in the student dorms in Marburg is pretty hit and miss, and unlike poor Rowan, I hit the jackpot, and found a cable-modem waiting for me in my room, but you can’t expect to have Internet as the dorms are spread out throughout the city and you won’t know where you are going to end up until you get here, and some dorms have Internet, and some don’t. Pretty much every student building I’ve been in has had WIFI though, so if you don’t get into a dorm with Internet, you may simply find yourself hanging out in other student buildings when you want to go online. I opted to bring my own smartphone from home, but I had to unlock it with my home company first. So if you’re currently getting cell service through Telus, for example,  you will need to call Telus and then follow their instructions to unlock your phone before you can get a German SIM card for your Smart phone. I currently have a really reasonably priced pre-paid plan for my smart phone, which I can simply “top-up” any time I use up all my minutes. It’s way cheaper than my plan in Canada, and I’m always connected. (Except when I’m in a bar that’s in a 500 year old cellar with no cell service.) You may find that you are trying to meet up with people and plans are forming and changing on the fly all the time, so the ability to stay up to date no matter where you are may be very valuable, but you may find that you are completely fine with simply using WIFI to connect your phones/tablets/laptops. This is going to be a matter of personal choice. Thirdly, you are going to receive lots of helpful advice and instructions from the IUSP staff from Marburg. Follow their advice and instructions like it’s the gospel! German organization and efficiency lives up to the hype, believe me! I followed their instructions to the letter, and getting from the Frankfurt Airport to Marburg’s Hauptbahnhof was ridiculously easy. They have the process of getting students started with the IUSP program down to a science, and if you work with them, the experience is going to be so smooth, it will be like a purée. Fourthly, don’t be afraid to take it easy in your first week. Many people are going to be bursting at the seams to get out and get going, but taking a few days to rest and relax and let your body adjust to its new time zone, schedule, and environment will allow you to enjoy everything much more. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking in Marburg, much of it uphill too! You can walk through the Castle bleary eyed and exhausted on Tuesday, or refreshed and invigorated on Saturday. The castle has been there for 500 years and will be there for quite some time to come, so it’s entirely up to you, but taking the time to rest and relax will also stop you from getting too rundown and possibly sick.



So far, I’ve had the time of my life, and I’m just now finished with my first week! I can’t wait to see my language skills develop over the next four months, and am looking forward to the many adventures I’ll be having with my many new friends! Look for more from me on my studies and travels in the coming weeks and months! Tschüss!